Best Behavioral Health Design of 2023: Young People Take an Active Role in Shaping Their Care

Toronto-based behavioral health provider Stella’s Place turned an outdated candy factory into a modern, welcoming facility for teens and young people to access mental health services. 

Stella’s Place offers outpatient behavioral health services to youth aged 16 to 29. It provides several drop-in services, including counseling, community programs and short-term individual counseling. 

Architecture firm Stantec designed the facility to create a welcoming environment that gives participants autonomy over their space and surroundings without having a clinical feel. It incorporates biophilic design, bringing plants and nature elements indoors.


The unique design helped the facility win the Behavioral Health category in the recent Behavioral Health Business’ Architecture and Design Awards.

The lobby of Stella’s Place, Toronto. Photo credit: Stantec

But the designers and providers didn’t do it alone. The team was guided by feedback and input from the young people accessing treatment at the facility. This helped give the community accessing care ownership over the space.

“We did roundtables where the young adults, their family members and staff all talked about what they really wanted to see in the space,” Deanna Brown, a principal at Stantec, told Behavioral Health Business. “We had a really good visioning engagement session, and then we got to work.”


Stantec is an architectural, construction management and engineering firm headquartered in Edmonton, Canada.

In addition to incorporating feedback from the participants at the facility, Stantec used a team of young architects and engineers to complete the project.

Keeping the character

One of the requests from the providers and participants was to keep the character of the original space. That can be tricky when completing such a massive transformation. However, participants and providers wanted to keep some of the space’s quirks.

“The original counseling rooms were all different sizes and we said, ‘We’re going make them all a uniform,'” Brown said. “And they said, ‘No, no, no, we like some of them to be big, and some of them a bit smaller, and we want them to have different colors and different characters.’ A big part of it is just being respectful and listening and figuring out how to get what they were going for.” 

Counseling room at Stella’s Place. Photo credit: Stantec

Personalization of the space was another critical element. For example, the space includes art made by the participant community. Young people were also very vocal about incorporating biophilia, or indoor plants, into the design.

“It provides green greenery to the space,” Brown said. “I am not a big fan of plants in a space. But this was something that the young adults insisted on. And you know what? They were right; it looks great.”

Autonomy of space

While Stella’s Place has unique needs, some design principles included in the space could be a road map for other behavioral health facilities catering to young people.

The facility offers several social spaces, such as a cafe, where young people can interact when not in a one-on-one session.

One of the main requests from participants was the ability to choose how they interact with others on a day-to-day basis.

This meant allowing participants to have social space and spaces where they could still be within sight of the staff but be able to have time alone.

Open space at Stella’s Place. Photo credit: Stantec

The design team accomplished this by making the hallways very wide to accommodate furniture. If a young person was having difficulty in a group session, this would allow them a place to get away and decompress.

“That autonomy of spaces allows you to choose if you want to feel cloistered, if you want to self-reflect, if you want people to watch and not feel watched,” Stephen Parker, a behavioral health planner at Stantec, told BHB. “We need to think about how you get voice and choice into design.”

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